One of our lead guides, Taylor, spent all of last summer living in Bormio riding the giant climbs of the region every week leading the Stelvio Weekender. He shares how he got on during his Stelvio summer and what it’s like to ride (& eat) on the trip.
I started my season in February riding the Atlas Mountains in Morocco (bagging a KOM on the main climb!) before some spring trips in Mallorca. My first taste of Italy was in Cesenatico for the Nove Colli and then I was off to Bormio for the season to meet up with our team of UK & local guides. Christian is our lead local guide and was an elite Biathlete. He knows the area like the back of his hand and is lightening on the climbs!
When we arrived there had been an unseasonable amount of snow and the Stelvio was closed leaving us to ride the lower climbs including the Cancano & Mortirolo. Our first trip was the Granfondo Stelvio Santini which had to end on the Cancano rather than the Stelvio due to the snow, and then we were into our weekly 4 night trips every Wednesday to Sunday. We did these every week in June to mid July when the roads get too busy and then from late Aug to mid Sept. Despite doing a similar itinerary every week, no trip was ever the same and we rode with some brilliant people.
The Sportive Breaks Stelvio trips tackle 3 of Italy’s most famous climbs over 4 days. Three big rides with Bormio proving the perfect place for post ride R&R. The drive from Milan is around 3 hours and it was always a great feeling driving out of the city and into the mountains. Once in Bormio, we help build bikes and go for a quick spin before the first dinner. Some of the best wine and pasta is plentiful from the moment you arrive. The welcome dinner at the hotel sets the standard high with a 3 course meal including the dessert bar, meaning the tanks will be filled for the next 4 days of riding. The local pasta dish for Bormio is the Pizzoccheri, a great energy dense buckwheat pasta with a lot of swiss chard cheese, butter and potatoes. The locals love it and in August there is an annual festival with one long table through the town serving the world’s biggest Pizzoccheri. To be honest, all the food is so good that while the local speciality was nice, everything else was just as good.
Riding Both Sides of the Stelvio
Thursday morning we get straight into business – double Stelvio day!! Bormio is a mountain town with towering mountains all around, with very few true flat roads we instantly start collecting the ascending meters from the door and climb the first side of the Stelvio Pass from town up to the Umbrail Pass. This side is varied with the famous tunnels and hairpin sector before the climb opens out to a stunning Alpine saddle. The Umbrail pass sits on the Swiss border and we dip our toes in another country as we descend down into the valley that takes us back around to the local town of Prato after a fun and fast (and rare!) flat section.
After lunch (nice paninis or light pizza) we take on the Prato side of the climb. The Stelvio is famous for its 48 Hairpin turns, and with a gentle start the difficulty builds with the anticipation of the climb it self. The climb is 22km and by the time you get to the last 6km, there is still 22 switchbacks until you reach the top. The turns are flatter and are there to act as a distraction for when the going gets tough, you aim for each switch back to gain a short rest from the gradient and chance to catch your breath in the thin air as you get closer to 3000m. I had one ride where I messed up my nutrition and this side of the Stelvio was one of the hardest of my life! Most of our customers were very ready to get to the summit and the celebrations here were a real highlight every week! In our final week, we were joined by a friend of mine training for the U23 worlds in Yorkshire and he took a KOM on the Prato climb! Once at the top, there are a few shops and food kiosks. My personal treat is always a Bratwurst on top of the mountain, but the Apple Strudel also hits the spot. Time for a photo of the famous hairpins before heading back to the hotel…
The Descent back to town will have to be one of my most favourite down hill sections in Europe and well worth the climb up. It is the best way to finish any ride.
Riding the Livigno Loop
With heavy legs we take a slightly ride on Friday to Livingo. This is a town famous for its skiing in winter and its downhill Mountain Biking in summer. If there is any chance of spotting a Professional rider, today is the day. Through June almost every team has a training camp here as riders prepare for the Tour and then in late Aug & Sept teams are back there preparing for the late season Classics & Worlds. From the hotel we ride up Foscagno Pass over to Trepalle for coffee and lunch (pasta or pizza, you will definitely burn the calories over the weekend!). For those wanting more climbing, a small loop around the town of Livingo and a return climb back up to Trepalle will help build up the appetite to sit back and enjoy lunch in the sun on the green grass of the Ski Fields. Todays riding objective is to get out and make the most of the riding holiday, but it is also a chance to enjoy your break, visit the town of Bormio it self or buy your souvenirs, more importantly it’s a chance to prepare the legs for a big day ahead when we tackle the Mortirolo and Gavia.
Riding the Mortirolo / Gavia Loop
After a slightly easier day on Friday, we go out with a bang on Saturday. The Mortirolo is one of the most classic Italian climbs there is because of its long history. Marco Pantani has a corner dedicated to him and he still remains the fastest men up one of the most brutal climbs I have ridden – keep your head up because you can ride straight past it! We offer two ways up the Mortirolo, the Mazzo side is the classic and the Grosio side is slightly easier. They both meet up with about 2km to go and the climb becomes a bit easier with great views. When you do get to the top, for me it was a true achievement and sense of pride. Mainly because we know the Professional riders fear the Mortirolo as much as any one else. The Lunch Location is a short roll from the top and has a great undisrupted view of the surrounding Mountains.
With tanks full of Pesto Pasta, the Gavia is the next climb to tackle. The climb itself is stunning and the roads get smaller and smaller and become remotely unique as it hugs the side of the mountain. Almost being poetic, but when it starts getting tough we ride through a big dark tunnel but this time the light at the end means you are getting closer to the top. The highlight of the Gavia is it is one of the last hill tops that holds onto its snow the longest, naturally there is a high chance of snow balls been thrown – for encouragement. At the top is a great cafe with hot chocolate on a cold day and coke (and cake) on a hot day! Like the Stelvio, there is a fast 25km descent back to the hotel. Being the last ride of the weekend, a few beers are always enjoyed that some weeks can turn into a few more and we end up out out!
Three days of riding some of the biggest climbs in Italian Folklore, yet there is one last climb left in town. Lake Cancano is considered the mini Stelvio in town with an outstanding 14 Switchbacks in the last 3km the view and pictures will end up being some of your favourite. For the 2020 Giro d’Italia Bormio will host the stage finish where the stage itself will finish at the top of the Lake Cancano Climb. We ride this either on arrival day as a warm up on add it to day two.
It is a quick 4 days of riding with a lot of climbing done. Throughout the season we have ridden nearly every single road possible in town and left no stone un-turned. I have collected all 3 patches for the Stelvio, Mortirolo and Gavia to remind me I have ridden these big climbs but I would happily go back and do it all over again.
Find out more about the Stelvio Weekender HERE.